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  1. 2010 Oct 26

    Pelini on Prince: He'll Bounce Back

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    By HuskerLocker

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    Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini hands out gaudy praise of his own players like a dentist foists candy on tykes, but Tuesday he mounted a surprisingly strong defense for senior cornerback Prince Amukamara, whostruggled in Saturday's 51-41 win over Oklahoma State.

    “Remarkable,” was the word Pelini used to describe Amukamara's play in 2010. Considered a top cover corner by several NFL analysts, he let Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon catch three passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in the first half, including an 80-yard flea flicker. Blackmon caught the ball at midfield, broke through Amukamara's arm tackle, and outran him to the end zone.

    “That really wasn't his play,” said Pelini, who expected Amukamara to receiver over-the-top help from the safety on the pass. “The ball was underthrown and the guy kind of pushed him by.”

    Amukamara told reporters Saturday he was “humbled” by Blackmon, the nation's leader in receiving yards who also drew a pass interference penalty.

    Pelini saw it differently. He played safety at Ohio State in college and coached the position in the NFL – including Deion Sanders with the San Francisco 49ers.

    “They all get beat,” Pelini said Tuesday. “No one is invincible.”

    The mark of Amukamara's talent, Pelini said, is preventing bad plays. Every corner has them.

    “What really shows what Prince was about is how he played the second half,” Pelini said.

    Tags: oklahoma state game, prince amukamara, bo pelini

  2. 2010 Oct 24

    HUSKER MONDAY REVIEW: OSU

    859 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Minutes after the Blackshirts had given up 495 yards and 41 points – the most in 24 games – in their narrow, exciting win over Oklahoma State, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini was in little mood to examine the numerous, glaring mistakes made by his troops.

    “I won't assess the defense,” Carl told reporters. “We won. Let me enjoy the win. I'll assess the defense on Sunday.”

    I sense that kind of answer is perfectly fine by Husker fans, who have built up a healthy respect for The Brothers Pelini and the work they do. Respect that Bo and Carl have earned.

    But how would fans react if offensive coordinator Shawn Watson had said, in response to critical questions, “let me enjoy the win” after the 2009 Oklahoma game? What if offensive line coach Barney Cotton had called Saturday's win “beautiful” - as linebackers coach Mike Ekeler did - while his offensive line whiffed on blocks and gave up six sacks?

    Food for thought as we chew on the review:

    Five Players We Loved

    Quarterback Taylor Martinez: Two plays jump out after reflection: The 33-yard toss to Mike McNeill on a deep corner route that took patience and touch; and his evasion of the pass rush to hit Kyler Reed for a first down on Nebraska's final touchdown drive. Those were senior plays. Martinez clearly took criticism and a benching in the Texas game well.

    Wide receiver Niles Paul: After he returned that kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, the senior made a beeline for the Nebraska fans and apparently told them “God bless you.” Was it a response to the handful of hecklers Paul encountered last week? It shouldn't be. Most NU fans like the kid just fine. Thirty jokers with a Facebook account isn't an entire fan base. At any rate, Paul picked a good time for one of his best career games.

    Wide receiver Brandon Kinnie: It was the junior, not Paul, who got his number called on the endzone fade patterns Saturday. He broke up a potential OSU interception on one, and scored an touchdown on the other. Worth watching down the stretch.

    Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard: Another terrific game for the junior. He may not be able to turn down the NFL if it comes calling, unless a work stoppage is entirely unavoidable and guaranteed to last through the 2011 season.

    Kicker/punter/runner Alex Henery: All he does is make every field goal, punt bombs and convert first downs with a weaving, terrific run on a fake punt. There aren't many like this Omaha Burke product. His dependability will be missed when he graduates.

    Three Concerns

    Jump Balls: Oklahoma State took its share of gambles on deep passes to Justin Blackmon. The Cowboys only hit a couple, but those few were worth 14-21 points. It's not easy for any defense to cover a kid like Blackmon – who seems to have all the makings of a Calvin Johnson/Dez Bryant-caliber talent – but Nebraska's corners, particularly Prince Amukamara, struggled to track and deflect the ball.

    Pass Rush: There isn't much of one. Yes, defensive end Pierre Allen went down early with a minor knee injury, but his replacements – Josh Williams and Jason Ankrah – are reputed to be pretty decent pass rushers, and they didn't really get home Saturday. Cameron Meredith is generating the most consistent pressure of the front four, but this unit just isn't the same with Ndamukong Suh. And the blitzes aren't really working. Witness that disastrous call in the first quarter that left OSU slot receiver Josh Cooper wide open.

    Ball Security: Martinez lost one fumble and nearly created two more turnovers with, shall we say, odd decisions. His first pass was a remarkably dangerous, underhanded throw to avoid a sack. His improvised option play to Paul should be sent to Siberia, never to return. Never a dull moment, though.

    Three Questions

    Can Nebraska solve the Memorial Stadium Mystery? Bo's had a week and a day to think about how to better prepare his team for the pressure of winning at home. Doesn't seem intuitive, but the numbers don't lie. And Saturday's Missouri game is bigger than Texas, because more is at stake (against a team that Husker fans like even less, I suspect, than Texas).

    Is the passing offense here to stay? If Martinez is up to it, perhaps. NU has created enough of a run threat to keep defenses honest, setting up the playaction pass for those deep crossing routes Watson likes so much.

    Just how good is Missouri? The Tigers have just a month removed from pulling out a thrilling 27-24 win over San Diego State thanks to a final-minute touchdown pass from Mizzou's Blaine Gabbert to T.J. Moe. That seemed to ignite Missouri's defense to previously unseen heights; the Tigers' D has played lights out for four weeks, and the offense came around in the Oklahoma game. Is Mizzou truly a top ten team? My read of the Tigers' talent tells me no. But they've beaten two of the teams that I thought would beat them (OU and Texas A&M) and I only had them slated for three losses. The third one? Take a big guess.

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    Tags: husker monday review, oklahoma state game, taylor martinez, alex henery, alfonzo dennard, brandon kinnie, niles paul

  3. 2010 Oct 24

    NU 14th in Latest BCS Standings

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    By HuskerLocker

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    Even after Nebraska's best win of the year - a 51-41 victory over previously undefeated and No. 14 Oklahoma State - the AP and Coaches polls hardly rewarded NU, instead vaulting Missouri - a 36-27 winner over BCS No. 1 Oklahoma - into the top ten.

    In the BCS poll, NU rose two spots from No. 16 to No. 14. Auburn is No. 1, while Oregon, Boise State, TCU and Michigan State follow. Missouri is No. 6. Oklahoma is No. 9.

    In the Associated Press poll, NU stayed at No. 14 as OU and LSU - both losers on Saturday - were slotted at No. 11 and No. 12. Missouri jumped to No. 7.

    In the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, NU moved up one spot from No. 13 to No. 12, as LSU, which lost to Auburn 24-17, dropped to No. 13. Missouri landed at No. 8, while the Sooners were at No. 11.

    Oregon remained at No. 1 in both polls, followed by Boise State, Auburn, TCU and Michigan State. The Ducks or the Broncos should be the No. 1 team when BCS standings are released Sunday night.

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    Tags: oklahoma state game

  4. 2010 Oct 23

    NU-OSU Report Card

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    By HuskerLocker

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    Here's our report card after the Nebraska-OSU game!

    OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Quarterback Taylor Martinez. No brainer here. The best part about Martinez’s play was his ability to evade the rush and deliver key first downs with his arm on NU’s final touchdown drive. Not sure he grew up Saturday, but he showed he could throw big passes.

    DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: None. NU gave up way too many yards and points for that.

    GRADES:

    QUARTERBACK: A- Martinez made a couple of head-scratching plays – and got away with them. But he played with intelligence, toughness and poise. As defenses gear up to stop the zone read game, Martinez will have to make plays with his arm. He did so Saturday. Now – can he get off the roller coaster?

    RUNNING BACK: B Not much was asked of Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead – but both ran the ball with forward lean and aggression, and neither fumbled. Decent pass blocking both in the backfield and down the field.

    OFFENSIVE LINE: B Martinez bailed out NU’s pass protection on a few occasions by evading the rush. The rushing lanes were decent at best. But Nebraska found its stride in the second half, plowed out some pretty big holes in the fourth quarter, and gave Martinez some nice cushion early in the third quarter to hit some throws.

    WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: B+ Still a few drops – Mike McNeill, Brandon Kinnie and Niles Paul all had one – but several more terrific plays downfield. Kinnie and Paul both had career days. Kyler Reed just might be NU’s best deep threat, as he caught another long ball – and his third touchdown – Saturday.

    DEFENSIVE LINE: D+ The scheme isn’t doing the front four any favors, but NU’s linemen have to get more pressure on the quarterback and not get shoved off the line against the run. You may see NU retool this unit over the next couple weeks to free up guys like Jared Crick and Pierre Allen. Cameron Meredith is playing the best of the front four.

    LINEBACKER: C- They, too, didn’t get much help from the defensive line, which didn’t hold up very well. But LaVonte David and Will Compton missed too many tackles and seemed a step behind some of the Cowboys skill players.

    SECONDARY: D Worst game in almost two years. The tackling was bad, and the coverage wasn’t much better. OSU tested NU deep and found the bank open. The Huskers did a much better job on crossing routes later in the game.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: A A fake punt, a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and three field goals from Alex Henery. A banner day for John Papuchis and Co. NU dominated the third phase.

    GAME MANAGEMENT/PLAYCALLING: B+ Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson called a strong game – especially in the second half. He varied the formations and playcalling to keep Oklahoma State off balance and trusted Martinez to make the right reads and calls in the passing game. Watson also didn’t waste time with bubble and tunnel screens. On defense, the staff really struggled to manage substitutions and play calls against OSU’s no-huddle offense.

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    Tags: oklahoma state game, report card, alex henery, taylor martinez

  5. 2010 Oct 23

    NU-OSU: Sweet Survival

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    By HuskerLocker

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    The game finally secure, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini turned away from the field in the waning seconds of NU's 51-41 win over Oklahoma State and began to locate his defensive players, a little dazed from a perfectly-awful performance. He started patting the helmets of each one he could find, a universal sign of confidence. And, in this case, a rare display of Bo's mercy.

    A small, proper gesture for an afternoon when NU could have folded its tent – and certainly would have in the Bill Callahan era – but stood firm against the Cowboys, who could probably score a couple touchdowns on the Baltimore Ravens.

    Survival is sweet. There are days when one thing or another spins totally out of control, and you're doing well just to hang on – literally, in the case of Huskers' tackling – write off the numbers and exhale over the win.

    Saturday in Stillwater was precisely that. A loose, wild game for a half. A signature Nebraska moment when it mattered. Yet another milestone for Taylor Martinez, who threw for more yards than he said words in the postgame presser. And a game that NU's offense really needed, even if OSU's defense couldn't stop Navy's passing game, much less Nebraska's attack.

    “Everybody had their mistakes, I promise you that,” Pelini said. “But everybody who played in that game today made plays. Made some plays that helped us win the football game. That's the way it goes – especially on the road.”

    The Huskers – and Bo – showed daring and resolve Saturday. They never hung their heads. They love the road, and feed off the adversity of the moment. If they could ever handle that stunned silence of Memorial Stadium after something bad happens - nothing sounds quite so heartbroken as 85,000 in a Sea of Red – watch out.

    You saw guts and execution in the special teams, with a fake punt, Alex Henery's three field goals, terrific punt coverage and Niles Paul's 100-yard kickoff return. You saw it in Paul's acrobatic grabs – even after one of his trademark drops. In Brandon Kinnie's ability to break tackles and get a foot down inbounds on a fade route in the end zone. In several of Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead's runs.

    And, of course, in Martinez.

    It's a high-wire act with this kid every week. Martinez risked, by my count, five turnovers Saturday. He committed one that led to a Cowboys field goal. Although he wisely ran out of bounds several times, he still took his share of howitzers from the OSU defense.

    But he was a lot more T-Boom than he was T-Bust at T. Boone.

    He'd get NU in long-yardage situations, then rescue it with a great throw or a timely sidestep of the Oklahoma State rush. He progressed through his reads. He set his feet. He corrected mistakes in five days that would take most QBs several weeks. And he did this after he was benched and the press – me included – took a pretty good run at his execution and leadership. His answer to press corps? A sharp little grin and wave at the end of his presser that reminded me of some young Hollywood bad boy who spurns the paparazzi.

    In his sheer, dogged insistence to make plays where there are none to be made, Martinez keeps winning folks over - and games along with it. He's tough. He is so oblivious to danger that he zips right past it or throws right over it. His rainbow deep passes were miraculously on target Saturday. He threw lasers on the short stuff. He got out of about five sacks.

    “We tried everything,” OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young said. We rushed three, we rushed five, we dropped eight and just weren't getting it done. So we need to find something that works better."

    We'll pull the slot machine next week and see what we get with No. 3.

    But at least Husker fans know he can throw it around the yard. Kudos to offensive coordinator Shawn Watson for opening up the playbook in the second half, addressing OSU's weakness head on, and trusting Martinez to find his way. Which he did.

    The same cannot be said for the Blackshirts.

    That defensive scheme – whether you call it the Peso, Queso, Ole or Oh My – demands too much of its players against a running back like Kendall Hunter and an offensive line like Oklahoma State's. Often, Hunter was three or four yards downfield before he even encountered an NU safety, who had No. 24 in a phone booth and let him out. Nebraska's defensive line doesn't penetrate. The linebackers do what they can, but inevitably get caught up in the wake of their own teammates.

    NU doesn't attack the run. It catches the offensive line and hopes to hold on. Did the Cowboys ever bother to run outside the hash marks? Not really. Opponents can now see that if you spread out the Huskers sideline-to-sideline, the Brothers Pelini will empty the box and ask their safeties and linebackers to be all-conference players on every down. They're pretty darn good. But not that good. Oklahoma State – quite easily – could have run for 350 yards Saturday, had it been so inclined.

    And where's the pass rush? It's a question. Cameron Meredith seems to be the most consistent guy at generating pressure. Jared Crick is struggling to get there. Blitzes didn't get home.

    The brothers need to reevaluate, and at least consider altering how the defensive line handles its responsibilities. Even Bo admitted after the game that he put some of the NU defenders in bad spots.

    The Huskers' secondary struggled, but Justin Blackmon's 80-yard flea-flicker touchdown skews the final numbers. Blackmon is a dynamic talent, the second coming of Dez Bryant. Hunter is a NFL starter, if healthy.

    Bo's mild, reflective postgame mood seem to reflect that reality. OSU had terrific skill players and an aggressive offensive coordinator in Dana Holgerson who will likely get a head coaching job next year. The crowd was loud and into it. NU had to survive – and did.

    “In this game, you have to pick each other up,” he said. “I thought that the times that the offense needed picked up in the game, the defense did it, and vice versa. It's a team game. We said going in, 'We've got to do what ever it takes to win the football game,' and that's what we did."

    The Huskers still have a stake in the Big 12. And you'll take it with a side of cole slaw.

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    Tags: oklahoma state game, taylor martinez, blackshirts, bo pelini, shawn watson, carl pelini

  6. 2010 Oct 23

    NU-OSU: Huskers Win Shootout in Stillwater

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    By HuskerLocker

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    His first pass of the day - a feeble, underhanded flip to an empty patch of grass - appeared to be an ominous sign of struggles to come.

    So much for first impressions. Because the kid brought his gun.

    While No. 14 Oklahoma State's fast-break offense turned No. 16 Nebraska's peso defense into queso, NU quarterback Taylor Martinez got busy writing the latest chapter of his memorable season.

    Just one week after getting benched in a 20-13 loss to Texas, Martinez turned in a tough, daring, explosive performance, throwing for 323 yards and five touchdowns – both freshman records - and accounting for 435 total yards in a 51-41 shootout win over the Cowboys in Stillwater

    “Pretty fun for me,” Martinez said. “For the team, too. We get to throw the ball around a lot and we get to make a lot of plays. It's pretty cool.”

    Martinez had never topped more than 200 yards passing in his young career. He eclipsed that mark in the third quarter. He spread it around, too, completing 23 of 35 passes to seven different receivers, with four completions of 25 yards or longer. Dodging OSU blitzers with frequency, often buying time instead of running right away, the Corona, Calif., native converted a number of key third down plays in the second half.

    He kicked it off with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Kinnie on Nebraska's opening drive, and capped it with a nine-yard toss to Kinnie late in the fourth quarter. In between, he made his share of head-scratching plays – including an improvised option play with Niles Paul and a costly fumble – that paled in comparison to the spectacular ones.

    “When he lets the game come to him,” head coach Bo Pelini. “He's pretty good.”

    Paul was, too. His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was part of a career day of 274 total yards. That included nine catches for 115 yards, both career highs. This, one week after Paul was a goat in the Texas loss, heckled by fans on Facebook and in the NU parking lot.

    “Niles is a stud,” Pelini said. “He's a competitor...he stepped up for us and made some plays.”

    Good thing. For the Blackshirts were run ragged by OSU's dynamic spread offense that racked up 495 yards. NU hasn't been gashed that badly since 2008. Losing defensive end Pierre Allen didn't help; he was replaced by sophomore Josh Williams and redshirt freshman Jason Ankrah, but Nebraska's defense often looked vulnerable and a step slow.

    The Huskers had few answers for Cowboys' running back Kendall Hunter (201 yards rushing) and wide receiver Justin Blackmon (157 yards receiving). Tackling was a particular concern, as the Huskers, with their whiffs and failed arm bars, routinely made Hunter look like OSU alum Barry Sanders. NU gave up 343 yards in the first half.

    “We had bad tackling,” Pelini said. “The awareness wasn't great at times in some of the areas we needed to fit into. I don't lack confidence in that area.”

    Pelini said the Huskers struggled to handle the Cowboys' no huddle offense, which routinely shuttled players on and off the field and ran plays within 10 seconds of the ball being spotted.

    And after OSU took its first lead of the game at 27-24 late in the first half, Nebraska (6-1 overall, 2-1 in the Big 12), already engaged in nearly two hours of a heavyweight fight, appeared on the ropes.

    “We started to get a little wide-eyed,” Pelini said.

    Martinez started to get hot. He led a 66-yard touchdown drive just before the halftime gun, overcoming a holding penalty and a drop by receiver Niles Paul by completing a 33-yard corner route to Mike McNeill and a nine-yard touchdown pass to Kinnie.

    “It was really critical that we be able to show we can run the two-minute offense,” Martinez said. “Previous games, we'd get stopped.”

    Said Pelini: “That was a huge drive.”

    Here's why: Nebraska got the ball to start the second half, and immediately tacked on a field goal to take a 34-27 lead. After OSU (6-1, 2-1) went three-and-out, Martinez converted two third down plays on NU's ensuing drive to set up a perfectly-thrown 41-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed. The Huskers had a 14-point pad. The Cowboys never got closer than seven after that. Martinez completed 15 of 21 passes in the second half for 196 yards.

    Both teams spent the first half trading haymakers. Nebraska struck first with a 27-yard run by Alex Henery on a fake punt, which led to Martinez's 45-yard touchdown pass to Kinnie, who caught the quick slant in stride, broke a tackle, rumbled to the end zone for his first career touchdown. NU led 7-0.

    OSU, its offensive line gashing wide holes for Hunter, twice got inside the Huskers' red zone, but settled for field goals.

    Paul returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards, sprinting down the opposing sideline, then veering hard to his left at midfield to evade two tackles and outrun the rest the to the end zone.

    “We knew we were going to have a chance to take one to the house,” Paul said. “Or a big gain. I just saw a hole open up.” OSU had given up two kickoff returns for touchdowns already this year.

    But Oklahoma State cut the lead to 14-13 with a 76-yard touchdown drive as Weeden completed five straight passes on the drive.

    Martinez answered, converting a 4th-and-inches at midfield, then setting up his own 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Tyler Legate with a 26-yard run on third down. Oklahoma State cut the lead back to 21-20 with a 84-yard touchdown drive, fueled by Hunter runs of 13, 16 and 5, and a defensive pass interference penalty.

    An NU field goal to increase the lead back to 24-20. Ping. An Oklahoma State 80-yard flea-flicker pass from Brandon Weeden to Blackmon for OSU's first lead at 27-24. Pong.

    Nebraska scored those 17 straight points, and altered the trajectory and momentum of the game. The capacity crowd of 55,935 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium quieted down, and while OSU still busted off some big running plays in the second half, Weeden only threw for 82 yards over the last 30 minutes, most of that on a final touchdown drive with the game out of reach.

    “I thought the second half was pretty good (defensively),” Pelini said. “We settled down. We tackled better. We just played better. We just made more plays.”

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    Tags: oklahoma state game, taylor martinez

  7. 2010 Oct 22

    Guess The Score! NU-OSU!

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    By HuskerLocker

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    Put your score and potential offensive and defensive MVPs in the comment box below. Get the score correct and win $20 gift certificate to Lincoln's BBQ4U and a Locker pass subscription through January!

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.



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    Tags: guess the score, oklahoma state game

  8. 2010 Oct 22

    Five OSU Players to Watch

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    By HuskerLocker

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    Five Oklahoma State Players to Watch in OSU’s Tilt with Nebraska.
     
    Wide receiver Justin Blackmon: He’s a jump ball artist who will be getting the first true challenge of the year. He won’t be used to a physical specimen like Prince Amukamara (or Alfonzo Dennard) covering him.
     
    Running back Kendall Hunter: The senior leader and bellcow will be a focal point of the Cowboys’ gameplan on Saturday. He has the toughness to run inside, the hands to catch the ball on the run and the speed to make NU’s linebackers look pretty bad.
     
    Linebacker Orie Lemon: OSU’s best defensive player won’t necessarily be the guy who shuts down Taylor Martinez, but he will be responsible for making plays on the second level, which is key to slowing down NU’s running game. The Cowboys’ defensive front isn’t in the same league as Texas, so the linebackers will need to make plays.
     
    Athlete Joseph Randle: OSU’s newest weapon is just a true freshman, but he’s fast and shifty and he’ll be another guy for Nebraska track all over the field. He’s equally versatile as a runner and a pass catcher.
     
    Quarterback Brandon Weeden: He hasn’t faced a pass defense nearly as sophisticated as Nebraska’s and Weeden’s already thrown eight interceptions this year. Look for NU to hit him early and often and make him bail on timing patterns.

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    Tags: oklahoma state game

  9. 2010 Oct 22

    Five NU Players to Watch

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    By HuskerLocker

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    Five Nebraska Players to Watch in NU’s Tilt with Oklahoma State.
     
    Cornerback Prince Amukamara: Time to earn that NFL money by matching up against one of the better downfield receivers in the Big 12, and perhaps college football in OSU’s Justin Blackmon. Amukamara has the talent, speed and physicality to do the job and take away one of Cowboy QB Brandon Weeden’s key weapons.
     
    Linebacker Will Compton:
    If defensive coordinator Carl Pelini eased Compton back into action last week vs. Texas, look for the DC to lean heavily on the sophomore in Stillwater. OSU runs the ball enough out of power sets that NU needs to place a second linebacker on the field to stop it, and that guy’s likely to be Compton. After missing the first five games with a broken, can Compton shine in his second game back much like Rex Burkhead did in the 2009 Colorado game?
     
    Defensive tackle Jared Crick: He’s been pretty quiet since a breakout game vs. Idaho, but Crick could have a feast against an OSU line that can give up sacks and tackles for loss. There seems to be something holding back Crick. Does the Pelini scheme take advantage of Crick’s top-end speed properly? Maybe this is the game where the Huskers turn him loose.
     
    Quarterback Taylor Martinez: Pressure’s on. Martinez seems to excel beyond his years on the road, and he may need to again to keep up with the Cowboys’ high-powered offense. Martinez has to prepare for an attacking defense that forces him to throw. Martinez isn’t a terrific passer, but he can make the throws to beat OSU’s so-so pass defense.
     
    Wide receiver Mike McNeill: His on-field complaint Bo Pelini was a bit much, but it pointed to this truth: McNeill was open over the middle for most of the Texas game. Look for him to get some touches on Saturday.

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    Tags: oklahoma state game, will compton, prince amukamara, taylor martinez, mike mcneill, jared crick

  10. 2010 Oct 22

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Five Keys to Oklahoma State

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    By HuskerLocker

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    Intermezzo in Stillwater. Nebraska's game at Oklahoma State lacks the drama of last week's Texas tilt and next week's blood match with Missouri – which, if the Tigers beat Oklahoma Saturday and NU beats the Cowboys, becomes the game of the year in the Big 12. But the stakes are up, NU's wagons are circled around this moment, and a fan base just now stumbling out of the fog of the UT loss wonders just which Husker team shows up for Saturday afternoon nachos.

    The keys, please:

    Chess Match: Nebraska may not face a coaching staff that's equal to its own expertise every week, but NU has a tough assignment in OSU's braintrust, led by head coach Mike Gundy, who's stepped away from the offense some to coach the mood the team during the game, but still remains an offensive mind as strong as any in the Big 12. The Cowboys' offensive and defensive coordinators, Dana Holgerson and Bill Young, have proven track records – Young coached Bo Pelini, in fact, when Bo was at Ohio State – and aggressive schemes. While Oklahoma State has developed a habit of struggling in these big games, the Brothers Pelini and Shawn Watson aren't going to run them ragged on schemes and plans.

    Polar-opposite Quarterbacks: An interesting side story of Saturday's game pits Nebraska redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez – a young, explosive runner who leads almost exclusively by example – against OSU junior Brandon Weeden, a 27-year-old former Minor League Baseball player who isn't much of a runner, but has a strong arm and an even stronger presence in the locker room. If you want to talk about two guys who come at the position from an entirely different point of view, here you have it.

    Who does the matchup favor? It could be a push. Martinez officially has a blueprint floating around out there to stop his running talents, while the book on Weeden is to get a pass rush in his face and make him throw interceptions. But if you give either quarterback some room to breathe – watch out.

    First quarter stumbles: In five of the nine Nebraska losses during the Bo Pelini era, NU has turned the ball over in the first quarter – against Oklahoma in 2008, it was several times - which directly led to points for the opponent. At home or on the road, Nebraska never seems to be a particularly fast starter; it can't afford to get behind against an explosive OSU team that also has the ability to control the clock.

    Head Hunter: While wide receiver Justin Blackmon – who leads the nation in receiving yards and touchdowns - earns the press clippings for the time being, it's senior running back Kendall Hunter who should attract more of Nebraska's attention. Equally skilled in between the tackles and darting around in the open field, Hunter is the kind of player who challenges NU's relative inexperience at linebacker. OSU can pound the ball on isolation and counter plays, but also send Hunter on quick shoot routes toward the sideline that forces LaVonte David or Will Compton to cover a ton of ground in a short amount of time.

    Nebraska's elite secondary can probably diminish Blackmon's contribution or take it away entirely. Hunter is a different matter.

    T. Boone Factor: Oilman T. Boone Pickens and his enormous wad of cash has transformed an erector set of a stadium into a polished, full-blown home field advantage that will come into play Saturday. While NU handled road trips to Washington and Kansas State with surprising ease, you just have to think that, somewhere during this season, an opposing crowd will get its claws into Nebraska a little bit. You hope, if you're a Husker fan, that it isn't Saturday.

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    Tags: five keys, oklahoma state game, taylor martinez, kendall hunter, will compton, lavonte david, shawn watson, carl pelini, bo pelini

  11. 2010 Oct 21

    Husker Heartbeat 10/21: Connie's New Crew

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    By HuskerLocker

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    Photo from US Presswire

    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.


    *Fresh off a historic season, Connie Yori talks about her new young Nebraska women's basketball team, including a "special" freshman in Jordan Hooper.

    *NU volleyball rolls again.

    *LJS Sipple looks at Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgerson, a Mike Leach disciple.

    *OSU's Kendall Hunter is the biggest, most versatile threat for the Cowboys' offense.

    *Brandon Kinnie's dropped pass haunted him for days.

    *Looking back at the few memorable Nebraska-Oklahoma State games.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, oklahoma state game, connie yori, brandon kinnie, kendall hunter

  12. 2010 Oct 20

    SCOUTING REPORT: Oklahoma State

    289 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    The best scouting report on the web available to Husker Locker Pass members with a 30-day free trial of HLP! Get entered for two free tickets to the Nebraska-Missouri game!

    Tags: oklahoma state game, scouting report

  13. 2010 Oct 20

    CHALKTALK: Breaking Down OSU's Offense

    303 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    HL's Sam McKewon breaks down why Oklahoma State's offense is so tough to stop - and the two tough decisions NU will have to make in defending it. Check it out with a 30-day free trial of Locker Pass!

    Tags: oklahoma state game, chalktalk

  14. 2010 Oct 20

    Podcast 10/20: The Cowboys' Big Guns

    343 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Photo from NewsOK

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.



    Join Husker Locker today - it's free!

    Tags: podcasts, oklahoma state game, volleyball, carl pelini

  15. 2010 Oct 20

    Practice Report 10/19: Moving Past Texas

    3,451 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    A quiet, ruminant Carl Pelini took the podium Tuesday just after his brother Bo, Nebraska's head football coach, had described the Huskers' defensive effort in 20-13 loss to Texas as the “worst tackling game I've been a part of.”

    NU missed 28 in all. Carl Pelini watched the tape and deemed his unit “overzealous” to make the big hit against the Longhorns instead of the basic tackle. Why?

    “I'm not a psychologist,” Pelini said, his voice failing to echo much through the microphone. “I have been through it 100 times in my head. Were we tight, were we not tight? I don't know. I can't answer that. It is stuff that we have talked about as a staff and talked about as team and creating awareness on their part.”

    It particularly stung, Pelini said, because Nebraska typically excels in that phase of defense.

    “We have been a pretty good tackling team over the last three years,” he said. “It is one thing I think we have always done well. It bit us on Saturday.”

    The challenge of tackling well grows Saturday when Oklahoma State – the nation's No. 2 total offense – presents NU with a variety of weapons to account for and cover. OSU likes to run quick screen passes that take advantage of receivers speed and strength, especially that of Justin Blackmon, who leads the country in receiving yards (955) and touchdowns(12).

    “They create matchup issues because they have a lot of speed to work with,” Pelini said.

    But OSU can run it, too. Senior Kendall Hunter is the nation's fifth-leading rusher, averaging 138 yards per game. The Cowboys, while operating out of the shotgun, often provide Hunter a lead blocker to get him rolling downhill.

    “They spread you out really well with the screen game and the inside runs and the deep balls,” Pelini said. “They always try to keep you off balance. I don't want to point at any one guy because they are all effective."

    On with the report:

    Particulars: Nebraska practiced for two-and-a-half hours inside and outside the Hawks Championship Center.

    What’s New: Not much. Nebraska players and coaches talked at length about Texas loss; not so much about the upcoming Oklahoma State game.

    Player Quote: “We lost. We were beat. And we gotta go on to Oklahoma State. We can't change it. If we dwell on it, it'll just bring us down. I've seen teams worry about a loss too much and it hasn't been good for them.” Tight end Mike McNeill, on moving forward

    Player Quote II: “The coaches have plans and rhymes and reasons for what they do. We do what's called. We block what's called, and we execute what's called. It doesn't matter if it's Taylor behind there calling the signals, Cody or Zac back there. If things aren't working because of a certain thing, it doesn't just fall on one person's shoulders.” Left tackle Jeremiah Sirles on blocking for different quarterbacks

    Coach Quote: “If you are a coach, and worth your salt, and you're going to do what you preach, you have got to dwell on what you did wrong. Whether you win or lose, you can't change that. You can't change a result. But whether we won that game or lost that game, we were poor tacklers. If we would have won the game, we still would have dwelled on that.” Carl Pelini on the missed tackles

    Next Practice: Wednesday

    Tags: oklahoma state game, practice report, carl pelini, jeremiah sirles, mike mcneill

  16. 2010 Oct 20

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Watson: Martinez 'Finding His Place'

    1,525 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Thirteen days ago, with the smell of bus fumes, Famous Dave's to-go meals and athletic tape in the air, Nebraska's offensive coordinator Shawn Watson held court after a 48-13 romp over Kansas State with a small pool of Big 12 reporters. His favorite topic: The latest exploits of quarterback Taylor Martinez.

    Toward the end of the conversation, a reporter asked Watson to project Martinez's performance vs. rival Texas. Would the redshirt freshman rise to the moment if NU was forced to pass against the Longhorns' defense?

    Watson, in the best of moods, slapped the reporter on the shoulder.

    “He'll be ready,” Watson proclaimed. “Don't worry about it. He'll be ready!”

    Tuesday night, four days after a 20-13 loss to Texas when Watson benched Martinez for senior Zac Lee – in part, Watson said, because the Huskers were behind and had “throw it around a little bit more” – the OC was preaching patience as his young pupil grows as a leader and a quarterback.

    “He's still finding his place,” Watson said. “He's still a work in progress. One of these days he'll develop into that guy who, I'm sure, takes everybody with him. But right now his work is his leadership.”

    He was referring to Martinez's stoic sideline demeanor with teammates and coaches. The Corona, Calif., native stood by himself, arms crossed, after a third-quarter benching. He spoke to few players. Few spoke to him. Martinez doesn't talk to the media between games and he press requests after the Texas loss.

    “You can't rush him into it,” Watson said. “Otherwise, it's what? It's phony. If it's phony it's no good. Nobody's going to follow that kind of leadership anyway.”

    Said Lee: “I couldn't even tell you what my leadership style is. I just go in there and try to be me and try to get the guys going. You have to be true to who you are as a person and it can't be false in any way.”

    Martinez shouldn't rush himself on the field, either, Watson said. That got him in trouble vs. Texas - especially executing the zone read.

    “He forced some decisions,” Watson said. “That led to some of his problems and our problems. Being eager in a big setting to make a big play and that's something we've got to grow through.”

    And while Martinez, “comprehended” NU's halftime adjustments, bad field position – and Martinez's inability to execute an alternate plan – played a role in his removal.

    “It's part of the process,” Watson said. “If it's something that's entirely out of that gameplan structure, that's something he's going to have to grow into.”

    Lee got the nod midway through the third quarter.

    “Zac's kind of a wily vet,” Watson said. “He's been under those lights before.”

    Said wide receiver Niles Paul: “Zac was calm out there. He took charge of the huddle. He said 'let's go, let's go, let's do this, we're going to win this game.'”

    Nebraska did not. But Lee led two drives into Texas territory and had three different passes dropped for touchdowns. Unlike head coach Bo Pelini, who questioned his decision Monday to pull Martinez, Watson said he didn't regret making the move.

    The OC picked Lee over sophomore Cody Green – Martinez's primary backup for five games – because he wanted a veteran to “settle the team.” Watson also figured Nebraska would have to pass the ball more trailing by 14.

    As it turned out, Lee had more carries – ten – than he did passes – nine – running the zone read plays more effectively than Martinez – without a fraction of the explosiveness.

    Why did Watson stick with the running game as the clock burned and NU still trailed?

    “Because that's what we do,” Watson said. “And because (Lee) has done a good job of getting better at it.”

    Watson said Martinez was “resilient” as Nebraska began prepping for undefeated (and relatively untested) Oklahoma State. So did Lee. Pelini said Martinez had an “excellent practice” Monday and showed no lingering effects of the benching.

    If there's one thing that Martinez seemingly does best, it's shedding the frustrations of the previous game.

    “I've said this a million times: Taylor's Taylor,” senior wide receiver Mike McNeill said. “He'll be fine.”

    Tags: oklahoma state game, shawn watson, taylor martinez, zac lee, mike mcneill

  17. 2010 Oct 19

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Paul Addresses Fan Criticism

    1,215 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    In four years as a Nebraska receiver, Niles Paul has heard his share of praise - and criticism - from NU fans. It goes with the territory of living in the fishbowl that is Husker football.

    But the bile was its worst, Paul said, following Nebraska's 20-13 loss to Texas Saturday. As the senior from Omaha walked to his car with his family after the game a few lingering NU fans hurled insults at him “from a distance” in the parking lot.

    “Stuff like 'You suck, you lost us the game, Texas can have you,'” Paul recalled Tuesday. “Little stuff. There's probably more hurtful things they could say.

    When his brothers reacted angrily, Paul - who dropped three passes vs. Texas - calmed them down and headed to the car.

    “It definitely surprised me a little bit,” Paul said. “But I've got to realize I'm not playing for the fans. I'm playing for my coaches and the team. I was more upset I let down my team.”

    Paul talked to head coach Bo Pelini, who could relate.

    “I had fans yell at me after the game,” he said Tuesday.

    Paul also said his Facebook page was littered with criticisms from Husker fans that, at some point, had asked to be Paul's “friend.” He deactivated the account.

    “I can't deal with that,” Paul said. “People kinda using me as a scapegoat. Saying mean things to me on Facebook for making a mistake that receivers make. For being human.”

    Not that Paul's letting himself off the hook for drops and general ball security problems that date back to his sophomore year. Alternately dazzling and frustrating, Paul was a bit of both Saturday, leading NU with six catches for 60 yards, but also dropping a deep ball from Taylor Martinez and two consecutive passes from Zac Lee that would have been touchdowns. Two weeks ago, Paul told reporters he wanted more opportunities within the offense.

    “I'm extremely frustrated with myself,” Paul said. “Just knowing I can make those catches and I've proved myself worthy of making those catches and you get to a game like that and it just doesn't happen. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and man up to your mistakes.”

    Why did he drop the ball?

    “The only reason I can think of is me not looking the ball all the way in,” Paul said. “Just from watching the film, I see my head turn.”

    Paul was hardly alone. Nebraska backs and receivers dropped eight passes Saturday.

    “It's hard,” said receiver Brandon Kinnie, who let a touchdown pass slip through his fingers and bounce off his knee. “I still think about the play I could have made. But it is what it is. I can't keep stressing myself and worrying about it.”

    Kinnie recipe moving on?

    “Flush it,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Paul said he and running back Roy Helu – whose first-quarter fumble led to a Texas touchdown – tried to pick up any teammates who seemed down in the locker room. The list didn't include quarterback Taylor Martinez, benched by Pelini in the third quarter.

    “Nothing really shakes Taylor,” Paul said. “He's confident enough to bounce back anyway.”

    Tags: niles paul, oklahoma state game, bo pelini, brandon kinnie

  18. 2010 Oct 18

    Practice Report 10/18: Tackle, Tackle, Tackle

    2,572 views

    By HuskerLocker

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    Rickey Thenarse knew he wasn't going to like what he saw when Nebraska's football team flipped on the film of its 20-13 loss to Texas. Thenarse missed crucial tackles on two UT touchdown drives, wildly throwing his shoulder into the ballcarrier instead of wrapping up with his arms.

    “It was embarrassing,” Thenarse said. “It's hard to watch. I'll learn from it. I took it like a man. Took the criticism. I'm responsible for everything I did out there.”

    The senior safety from Los Angeles had plenty of company, head coach Bo Pelini said. The Huskers – usually a strong tackling bunch – strayed from their fundamentals, Pelini said, which led to more than 100 yards after contact for the Longhorns.

    “If you want them to go down, you've got to bring it and wrap up,” Pelini said.

    Said sophomore safety P.J. Smith: “We just didn't wrap up and run our feet when we hit them...and that's not like us.”

    Thenarse has always been more of a big-hit artist than a tackling tutorial, but his first torpedo bounced off the hull of quarterback Garrett Gilbert in the first quarter as Gilbert extended the drive with a third-down scramble. Had Thenarse made the tackle, Texas would have been forced to settle for a field goal.

    “I was trying to knock the ball out Trying to make a play,” Thenarse said. “I kinda was surprised. Then again, he's the quarterback. starting for Texas. He can take a hit.”

    Later, Thenarse tried the same thing after UT running back Fozzy Whitaker burned NU linebacker on a circle route. Same result: Whitaker bounced away, going for a 41-yard gain instead of a 15-yard play.

    Smith estimated that more than 100 of UT's 271 total yards came after initial contact.

    Monday's practice – though conducted in half pads – contained plenty of tackling work, Smith said. It was a competitive day, Thenarse added, with jobs again on the line.

    “We had some good-on-good,” Pelini said. “We got a good jump on Oklahoma State.”

    The undefeated Cowboys have the nation's No. 2 passing offense. But OSU hasn't played a pass defense with a national rank above 100 in six game. NU is No. 1.

    “I love our secondary,” Pelini said. “We didn't tackle well the other day. I didn't like that aspect of it. But I think we match up well on the outside.”

    Particulars: Nebraska worked out for two hours inside and outside the Hawks Championship Center, starting a little earlier Monday to account for fall break.

    What’s New: There was a more competitive edge and resolve in Monday's practice, players said. Adversity always tends to help these Huskers.

    Player Quote: “If we could play all of our games on the road, we probably would play all of our games on the road. Don't get me wrong: It's wonderful playing in our stadium with all of our fans and all that, but there's something about playing on the road.” P.J Smith, on road games

    Player Quote II: “I don't think we played with passion at all. Not one play was I out there hyped. Not one. So I don't think that I went out there and played as hard as I can play.” Safety Rickey Thenarse on NU's play vs. Texas

    Coach Quote: “It's important to him. He knows, hey, if I want to be the player I'm capable of being and make the plays, I need to come through.” Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore on NU receiver Niles Paul

    Notes:

    *Special teams coordinator John Papuchis said Texas added a twist to its two rugby-style punts that went for 55 and 67 yards against the wind Saturday: Punter John Gold, a right-footer, rolled to his right and kicked them back across the field.

    “In two years of gameplanning for it, they had never punted back across the field,” Papuchis said. “That was an adjustment they made in their gameplanning and they executed it well.”

    Of course, it happened twice. Papuchis said the second successful kick was “our fault.”

    *Alex Henery hadn't attempted an onside kick since the 2008 Virginia Tech game. He wasn't successful there and he wasn't on Saturday, either.

    “We didn't get a great bounce on it,” Papuchis said. “It kind of popped up in the air into their hands.”

    Next Practice: Tuesday

    Tags: oklahoma state game, rickey thenarse, bo pelini, john papuchis, pj smith

  19. 2010 Oct 11

    ABC Selects NU-OSU; Time Not Set

    5,118 views

    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    The Oct. 23 Nebraska-Oklahoma State game in Stillwater will be a 2:30 or 7:00 p.m. start on ABC, the network announced Monday morning. ABC also selected Oklahoma-Missouri for telecast; the network will wait for the outcome of this weekend's games before determining which game goes where.

    Oklahoma hosts Iowa State
    Oklahoma State plays at Texas Tech
    Missouri plays at Texas A&M
    Nebraska hosts Texas


    The 7:00 slot will a Saturday Night Football national broadcast, and the prime spot.

    See also: Win Nebraska-Texas Tickets!

    Tags: oklahoma state game

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